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Vanilla beans nutrition facts

Pleasantly fragrant rich vanilla beans are the pods or fruits obtained from a tropical climbing orchid. Mayans used them to flavor chocolate drinks centuries before Spanish first set their foot in Mexico in 1520. This highly prized bean is native to tropical rain forest of Central America and only recently spread to other tropical regions by Spanish explorers.

Botanically the plant is a perennial herbaceous climbing vine belonging to the family of orchidaceae of the genus: vanilla. Scientific name: Vanilla planifolia.

The vanilla plant has unique growth characteristics. It requires supporting tree or pole to grow in height. Matured vine bears deep trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers open only for one day and are naturally pollinated either by the melipona bee or long beaked humming birds. However, in cultivation, they are hand pollinated and now grown commercially in Madagascar, Indonesia, India, Puerto Rica and West Indies.

There exist 3 main cultivars of vanilla. Vanilla planifolia is the most sought after bean worldwide. The other species include Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitiensis (grown in Polynesian islands), although the vanillin content of these species is inferior to Vanilla planifolia.

The unripe pods are harvested when they are 5-8 inches long and turn light yellow in color. They are then blanched briefly in boiling water, sweated and dried under sun over a period of weeks until they turn dark brown and wrinkled. White crystalline efflorescence which is vanillin, the main essence of vanilla, appears inside in some of superior quality pods.

Health benefits of vanilla

  • Vanilla beans are one of the expensive non-pungent spices especially used as flavoring purpose in a wide array of sweet drinks and confectionaries.

  • Vanilla extract composed of simple and complex sugars, essential oils, vitamins and minerals.

  • The main chemical components in the beans are vanillin and numerous traces of other constituents such as eugenol, caproic acid, phenoles, phenol ether, alcohols, carbonyl compounds, acids, ester, lactones, aliphatic and aromatic carbohydrates and vitispiranes.

  • Vanilla drink was thought to have aphrodisiac qualities, however no research studies establishes its role in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

  • The extract contains small amounts of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B-6. These B-complex groups of vitamins help in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function and regulating body metabolism.

  • This spice also contains small traces of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and zinc.  Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome oxidases enzymes.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 288 Kcal 14%
Carbohydrates 12.65 g 10%
Protein 0.06 g <1%
Total Fat 0.06 g <1%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 0.0 g 0%

Folates 0 mcg 0%
Niacin 0.425 mg 3%
Pantothenic caid 0.035 mg 0.5%
Pyridoxine 0.026 mg 2%
Riboflavin 0.095 mg 7%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Vitamin C 0 mg 0%

Sodium 9 mg 0.5%
Potassium 148 mg 3%

Calcium 11 mg 1%
Copper 0.072 mg 8%
Iron 0.12 mg 1.5%
Magnesium 12 mg 3%
Manganese 0.230 mg 10%
Phosphorus 6 mg 1%
Selenium 0.0 mcg 0%
Zinc 0.11 mg 1%

Selection and storage

Vanilla beans are available in herb and spices stores year around. One may also find vanilla essence and vanilla sugar in these stores.  Vanilla beans are usually available either singly or in small bundles often packed in long glass tube or jar.

Buy vanilla products from authentic sources as adulteration with artificial flavorings is quite common. A well processed good quality pod will remain potent for as long as 3-4 years.

Alternatively, store whole vanilla bean in a jar of caster sugar and allow 3-4 weeks for the flavor to permeate the sugar completely. This fragrant rich vanilla-sugar can be used in cakes, puddings, pies and ice-creams.

Culinary uses

Real vanilla is pleasantly aromatic and very expensive spice only after saffron. In general, natural vanilla extract is made by finely chopping the beans and infusing them by dripping alcohol on the pieces.

Alternatively, the beans are bruised and infused in milk or cream for making ice-cream and sweet puddings.

Here are some serving tips:

  • One of the finest flavoring bases, used exclusively in sweet cookery, vanilla is added to cakes, biscuits, desserts and puddings.

  • It is also used in confectionary to make chocolates, ice-creams, custards, chocolate drinks etc.

  • Vanilla is also used in the preparation of popular liquor Galliano.

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